Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How Communal are we ? Let's dig in some history.

Recently there has been a series of mob lynching on the issue of cow protection. The Muslims and Dalits have been the prime victims of these self-styled ‘gau rakshaks’ who pledge to protect the holy animal even at the cost of human lives. So, I tried to trace the present political and social developments in India in comparison to the political events of the late colonial period when extreme communalism spearheaded by the Jinnah-led Muslim League led to the partition of British India or Akhand Bharat.

The Background:

Even though the League and the all-inclusive Indian National Congress started going separate ways in the 1920s itself, the event that marked their differences was the 1937 provincial elections where the League lost even in the Muslim majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab. The regional Unionist parties won in both the provinces, while, Congress swept the majority of the country. The communal issue was still very weak and Muslim League gained little popularity in minority areas like Upper Provinces (Uttar Pradesh).

At the 1940’s Lahore resolution of the League, Jinnah declared the demand for a separate state of Pakistan for Indian Muslims. Even though the idea of Pakistan was initially very vague, the UP Muslims, led by the Deobandi Ulemas and powerful section of students from the Aligarh Muslim University played a major role and later designed the whole partition plan. They compared the soon to be created Pakistan as a New Medina with absolute Sharia law, to be headed by a Caliph. It should be noted that Dr. B R Ambedkar’s book Thoughts on Pakistan, published merely four months after the Lahore resolution also played a pivotal role as he questioned the very foundation of the new nation and laid out some expert strategies for both Muslims and Hindus on their road to partition. Ambedkar supported partition.

Now let us see the key issues on which the League attacked the Congress during those days. Jinnah sought to ‘expose’ the Hindu bias of the Congress with an excellent propaganda. By imposing, ‘Vande Mataram’, the Congress flag, and Hindi over Urdu on all Indians, Jinnah alleged the Congress of pursuing a policy which was extensively Hindu. Cow, on the other hand, had become a cultural symbol since the days of the mutiny of 1857. In a letter to all the princes of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar requested the Hindu rajas to help him fight the British and in return, he will ask the Muslim Rajas to stop cow slaughter in their provinces. This was the first act of politicization of the Holy Cow.

The Present Context:

1.       The Holy Cow: In the pre-partition India Jinnah, claiming to be the ‘sole spokesmen’ of the 90 million Indian Muslims, attacked Congress on the issue of the Cow. It is to be noted that the Muslim have no religious attachment to the cow. Not eat beef is just a choice, even though it is imposed on them. While the Hindus have a religious sentiment attached to the Cow, and they keep away from beef just like the Muslims stay away from pork. Then it was politicized to gain greater autonomy and political space, today the same argument is used to suppress the minority Muslims remaining the country. Even the Dalits have been victims of this new-wave of Hindutva assertion.

2.        Vande Mataram: The League accused Congress of imposing the Congress anthem “Vande Mataram” on them during the 1937-39 Congress government. The argument was the same that is given to the present-day slogan of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” as the Muslims are monotheists and cannot bow or salute anyone other than God Almighty Allah. Subsequently, this issue led to the changing of our national anthem from Vande Mataram to Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana, a rhetorically geographical song. 

3.       Imposition of Hindi: The language problem has never been solved even after a bloody partition. In less than a decade of the partition, the Dravidian self-respect movement kicked in and India had to be reorganized on the lines of languages giving birth to many new states. The issue still seems unsolved as more and more subnational groups come up with demands of separate states. The recent being the Gorkhas who started a mass movement earlier this month after Mamata Banerjee's West Bengal government decided to impose Bengali throughout the state.

4.       The Congress flag: During the 1937-39 provincial government of the Congress, the Congress flag was unfurled on all government offices along with the Union Jack. The Muslim League argued that the Congress doesn’t represent the Indian Muslims and the flag cannot be treated as a symbol representing all Indians. Only on this issue, a series of riots took place in UP and Bihar.
In today’s India also, symbols have become more important than the people. In the past few years, there have been numerous reports of violence and public lynching in cinema halls on the issue of disrespect to the national flag and the anthem.

The main reason why Jinnah furiously spread this propaganda against the Congress was that he was ignored. The Congress under staunch socialists like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose rejected any cooperation with the League as they thought politics on communal lines would dilute their main goal of independence. They also observed that any political organization must have some political and economic agenda. In fact, League along with the Hindu Mahasabha were treated by Congress as communal organizations, more interested in claiming special privileges from the British, which whom they avoided any conflict.

Mr. Modi claims to be the great reformer of his times transforming India with his rhetoric of ‘development’. But, his comrades have already unleashed a war on the minority and Dalits on communal lines. Since September 2015, when Mohammad Aklaq was lynched for allegedly possessing beef, there has been at least 20 cases of mob lynching related only to the issue of cattle slaughter or beef possession. And the Modi administration’s silence on such social crimes has only encouraged the anarchic mob.

Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy recently tweeted quoting Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s diary which said: “the Hindu Muslim problem can only be solved through a civil war”. While he got into a controversy of advocating communal violence, the context does matter. S P Mookerjee wrote it in 1946, we did have a communal riot after that and a very bad partition as well. But, has the problem actually be solved? If we do not take lessons from the past, maybe the future won’t be as bright as Modiji dreams it to be.